Through its examination of a city marginal to the Italian tradition of communes and city-states during the post-Renaissance period, the book offers an extended reassessment of what has been regarded as the typical Italian model of welfare. Acts of charity have often been interpreted either within a functionalist framework or merely as responses to the needs of the poor by reference to the elusive field of changing mentalites. This book seeks instead to illuminate the reasons for individuals' involvement in charity. Analysis of the relationships of power, and conflict within the actors' personal and political milieux, reveals that tensions within the social elites were a crucial factor in motivating charitable giving and even in shaping perceptions of the deserving poor. Special attention is paid to the symbolic and direct aims of charity, rather than to its explicit interventions. This focus on subjectivity also throws new light on the link between gender and charitable activity.
"A brief review cannot do justice to the rich texture and human detail of this study. Skillful exploitation of the neglected types of power allows Cavallo to revise the widely accepted views of changing systems of poor relief in the early modern period. especially those of Geremek and Foucault...Sandra Cavallo...performs a useful service in restoring charity and poor relief to its social context." Canadian Journal of History "This detailed study is a solid contribution to the study of both carita and the history of hospitals. It is a welcome addition to the Wellcome Trust's support for scholarship in the history of medicine...learned and meticulous..." Bibliotheque D'Humanisme "A pioneering contribution to current discussions of material aspects of charity." Choice this book demands close reading, both for the tightness of its arguments and for the importance of what it has to say...Her arguments command serious attention, for they are solidly grounded in archival documentation, especially Turin's rich fund of notarial deeds and wills...Dr. Cavallo's book is crammed with novel, challenging arguments...Her book leaves few orthodoxies unscathed, and will form the point of departure for reinvigorated debate on these issues." Geoffrey Symcox, Journal of Modern Italian Studies "...elegant and cautiously argued volume...What emerges is not merely a well-researched book, but a meticulously crafted conceptual framework. Cavallo takes no current orthodoxy for granted and therefore each observation is fresh, perceptive, and authoritative...These findings...have important implications for the history of women in institutions...this book is a significant achievement, intellectually challenging, historiographically conscious, methodologically sound, and a major contribution to our knowledge of the early modern city and its elites." The Sixteenth Century Journal "This book deserves wide readership... Cavallo's contributions are many, and she points the way for future research. She creatively relates adjusted patterns of charity and the promotion by charitable organizations..." William V. Hudon, American Historical Review